With the first blast of winter we are reminded how important it is to be prepared for the extrem weather so common on winter days. Here are some tips to help you be safe. These are the supplies you need to keep you and your family safe.
Winter Car Survival Kit Checklist
1. Shovel, windshield scraper, and small broom:
These items are used to keep your car clear of snow so you can be found easier.
2. Headlamp and spare batteries:
I prefer headlamps to standard flashlights. They free up your hands so you can clear snow from your vehicle with more ease. Imagine trying to shovel while holding a flashlight!
It would take 3x longer and cause you to be exposed to the cold longer.
3. Crank-powered emergency radio:
You’ll need your emergency radio to keep up on road conditions.
Crank-power means you don’t have to worry about batteries dying on you.
A radio also comes in handy to help kill boredom while waiting to be rescued. A lot of people make poor decisions when they become bored. Here are some of the best emergency radios.
4. Hygiene kit:
Your driving survival kit should include toilet paper, baby wipes, trash bags, feminine items, and diapers (if you have an infant). You can urinate into an empty water bottle to avoid going into the cold.
5. Hats, socks, mittens, jacket, and boots:
You should have these items for every member of your family. Yes, I know you will probably already be wearing these items in winter. However, they could easily get wet so you’ll want spares.
Also, you’ll be grateful to be able to double up on the clothes when it gets cold!
6. Blankets and/or sleeping bags:
If you can afford them, get sub-zero sleeping bags for each member of your family. The shape of sleeping bags make them better at trapping body heat than blankets.
If you have to go with blankets, opt for wool ones. Wool blankets dry faster and do a great job of trapping heat.
7. Bivvy Bag:
A bivvy bag is essentially a waterproof sack that you can get into. A lot of people think it is okay to only have a bivvy bag in their winter car survival kit.
Yes, a bivvy bag will trap your body heat and get you warm – but it will also make you sweat like crazy. After a few hours in a bivvy bag, don’t be surprised if you are completely drenched in sweat. This in turn makes you colder and defeats the entire purpose of using the bivvy bag.
A bivvy bag must be used OVER a sleeping bag or blanket.
First you get in your sleeping bag or wrap yourself in blankets. Then you crawl into the bivvy bag. The sleeping bag/blanket will provide enough insulation to keep condensation from building up in the bivvy bag. The combo is very effective at keeping you warm. (6)
There are plenty of cheap emergency bivvy bags for $5 that you can buy. These are generally not any better than crawling into a trash bag. I suggest getting something a little better.
The best bivvy bags are breathable but quite pricey, like this one:
8. Emergency car tools and supplies:
You can avoid getting trapped in your car in winter by having tools to fix the problem that has you stranded.
- Spare tire, jack, and lug wrench
- Can of tire inflator and sealant
- Tow chain – this one is highly rated
- Spare fuses
- Road salt, sand, or cat litter
- Booster cables
- Motor oil
- Antifreeze, coolant, and windshield washer fluid
- Pocket knife and multi-tool
Of these emergency tools, the jumper cables are arguably the most important. Unfortunately, there are a lot of issues with standard jumper cables – particularly that you need to lug around a spare battery or wait for someone else to come and offer a jumpstart.
These pocket jumper cables are really cool. They act as a portable power bank for your devices, but can also be used for jumpstarting your car. It weighs just 8oz and can jumpstart your car 20 times on a single charge. No need to connect to another car’s battery!
9. First aid kit:
You should have a first aid kit in your driving survival kit regardless of the season. Be sure to include any medications that you need to take.
Also, pay attention to where you keep the car first aid kit. If you have an accident (like sliding off the road on black ice), you might not be able to get to the trunk of your car. It’s better to keep the first aid kit under the passenger seat.
10. Emergency signaling items:
In case of an accident of getting stuck in your car during winter, you need to have a way to signal for help. No – reflectors will NOT be enough! They are important to have in your emergency kit, but won’t help rescuers spot your vehicle from a distance.
Include in your winter car kit:
- Phone plus charger
- Roadside flares
- Reflectors (put next to your vehicle to increase visibility)
- Whistle (for calling for help without having to use your horn and drain the battery)
- Fluorescent distress/HELP flag
- Notepad and pencil (in case you evacuate- leave a note saying where you are headed)
11. Emergency heat sources:
Cars are very poorly insulated. Even in a sleeping bag/bivvy bag combo, you might still find it very hard to stay warm. Yes, it is possible to heat your car during a breakdown without turning it on (which you should only do for 10-15 minutes at a time every hour, assuming you’ve got enough gas).
Here’s what you need in your vehicle to stay warm:
1. Hand warmers:
Put these in your gloves and shoes to prevent frostbite.
2. Duct tape + trash bags:
Tape trash bags (or newspapers, blankets, bubble wrap…) around the windows and doors to seal off cracks.
This is a trick I learned while winter camping. You’d be surprised how much heat a few candles can put out. A single multi-wick candle can keep your car comfortable for up to 24 hours.
More candles equals more heat. Of course, you need to be careful that the candles don’t tip over, so make sure you get candles with sturdy bases. (7)
4. Indoor-Safe Heater:
Most heaters are absolutely NOT safe to be used inside a car.
However, this heater is safe for indoor use as it will automatically shut off if turned over or if low oxygen levels are detected. It’s pretty small so you can easily keep it in your trunk.
Do note that it generally isn’t advised to keep propane in your car because of fire risk during accidents. Weigh whether that risk is worth the security of having an emergency heater with you at all times.
IMPORTANT: Emergency heaters – including propane and candles – produce carbon monoxide. CO poisoning is a leading cause of death during emergencies.
If you are going to put a propane heater or candles in your car winter emergency kit, you must also include a CO detector. These are small and can easily be kept in your trunk.
There are mini CO detector strips (usually used by aviators) like this one which are really cheap. It is only activated once you open it.
Alternatively, pay a bit more for a battery-operated CO detector. Just put the batteries in it once you are ready to use it in your car.
12. Emergency Food
In most survival situations, you can go for 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food. However, your body uses significantly more energy when trying to stay warm. Since you’ll probably also be shoveling snow off your car, you will need a lot more calories.
According to this source, the typical person consumes about 2,300 calories per day. About half of those would be used to regulate body temperature. To make sure your body can stay warm enough, you’ll need 3,500 calories per day while trapped in your vehicle during winter.
When choosing food for your winter car survival kit, you’ll want sugary foods that provide quick energy. Candy bars are especially great for fighting off hypothermia.
Include in Your Kit:
If you want to take your winter car survival kit to the next level, consider getting some self-heating meals. These meals are fairly cheap and they come with a “heater” which works through a chemical reaction.
A hot meal can go a long way towards warming you up when trapped in your car!
*Remember to also pack a mess kit if you want to include some of these self-heating meals!
During a winter breakdown, you will have water all around you in the form of snow. But you should NEVER EAT SNOW. It will cause your core temperature to drop. Since there isn’t that much water in the snow anyway (it’s fluffy), it isn’t worth freezing your body for the amount of water you’d get.Make sure you have plenty of bottled water in your car emergency kit. You’ll also need a way to melt the water in case it freezes.Include in Your Kit:
- Bottled water – the bottles shouldn’t be completely full to prevent cracking in case they freeze
- Tin can or pot (for heating frozen water or melting snow)
- Matches – I like these waterproof and stromproof matches and they are available for free at the moment (just cover S+H)
- Stove or candles (use outdoors or follow the same safety protocols for using emergency heaters in your car!) I use this clever bio-lite camp stove which also doubles as a phone charger.
- Water filter or purification tablets (even clean-looking snow should be purified before consuming). Check out this guide to the best water filters for more.
Winter Car Bonus Survival Kit Tips:
- Store important items under the passenger seat in case the trunk is jammed shut.
- Check your kit items before the start of each season.
- Water bottles should be rotated every 6-12 months to prevent leaking.
Be prepared and ready for the cold this winter. Keep safe and be prepared.